I have been honored to serve on the Grand Forks School Board since 2000. However, I am writing today not as a School Board member, nor am I representing the board or school district. I am writing as a taxpayer, father of two daughters who spent their entire K-12 education in the Grand Forks Public Schools, and a grandfather with three granddaughters currently enrolled in the Grand Forks Public Schools.
On Sept. 28, voters will be asked to consider raising taxes to help pay for current and future maintenance costs at our schools in the district. This would raise the building fund from 10 to 20 mills, which would raise approximately $2.5 million annually for facility costs across the district’s building. If this measure is approved, the monthly tax impact for an owner of a home valued at $100,000 would be $3.75, $45 annually. The monthly impact for an owner of a commercial property valued at $100,000 would be $4.17, $50 annually.
The school district currently has around $80 million in deferred maintenance; however, overall facility needs in the district are estimated to be around $250 million over the next 20 years. In addition to deferred maintenance needs, there are significant safety and security issues including fire suppression, air conditioning, building security, and compliance with the Americans with Disability Act of 1990. Most of our buildings were designed and built before this act became law.
Currently the district taxes its citizens the lowest among the five largest school districts in the state (Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot and West Fargo). If you look at just the building and sinking fund, Grand Forks is lowest at 12 mills. In comparison Minot is at 23.5, Fargo 27.35, Bismarck 32.82, and West Fargo 53.98 mills. The revenue generated from this fund is $2.86 million annually for Grand Forks. For the other districts it is $4.95 million for Minot, $10.8 million for Fargo, $15.79 million for Bismarck, and $19.93 million for West Fargo. If you look at the total property tax, the school district in Grand Forks receives 31% of the tax and the city, county, and park district receive the remaining 69%. This is much lower than the other large school districts: 40% in Minot, 46% in Bismarck and West Fargo, and 53% in Fargo. If this measure is approved, the school district will continue to receive the lowest percentage at 33%.
Currently about $2.5 million are taken out of our general fund each year to support the district’s facility needs and aren’t available to be used on educational programming for our children. If this measure is not approved by 60% of the voters, the financial issues of the school district will continue to worsen over time. This will lead to further reductions in the budget, most likely leading to further staff reductions and elimination of programs. None of that will allow the district to fulfill our mission which is to help our children grow together to enrich the world.
I would encourage all voters to become educated about the upcoming school election regarding increasing the building fund to 20 mills on Sept. 28. For the sake of our children’s education, I would humbly encourage you to vote yes on Sept. 28.
Eric R. Lunn, of Grand Forks, is a physician and member of the Grand Forks School Board.